Hetherington, Sinfield and the RFL: Is open warfare about to break out?

The decision by the RFL to hand Kevin Sinfield a two-game ban for his headbutt on Luke Dorn has created predictable waves of reaction.

While many reasonable-minded people probably see the decision as fair enough, based on the Leeds skipper’s past record, which has been almost exemplary, there has been the usual amount of dissent from some quarters.

Perhaps the most surprising show of annoyance, however, was from Leeds chairman Gary Hetherington. Often viewed as part of rugby league’s ‘Establishment’, it has not been like Hetherington to openly criticise the game’s governing body.

We’ve got Dr Marwan Koukash to do that, these days, haven’t we?

With Eamonn McManus and Koukash butting heads over marquee players recently, and Neil Hudgell always willing to say what he thinks, we seem to have a game which is on the verge of open warfare.

It is almost impossible to see who is on whose side, though, or even what principles and ideas are driving what is said sometimes.

Koukash implied that certain clubs were in the RFL’s pocket when his marquee player proposals were rejected, at least for the moment. McManus responded to that with a barbed piece in the Manchester Evening News.

This followed rumours last year that St Helens were actually part of Koukash’s ‘rebel alliance’ which was looking to take on the RFL and force change.

Leeds were meant to be part of the other side, whatever it was that they were meant to stand for. But now Hetherington has come out and slammed the RFL, in a case where the outcome could actually have been much worse for his player.

Factions, counter-factions, cliques and plots, it all looks positively Machiavellian. Just what is going on?

What does seem certain is that rugby league is a sport on the brink of outright civil war. When chairmen seem to occupy more column inches than players and coaches, it tends to indicate that there is a problem.

And when referees are in the news as much as players, coaches and chairmen, then something is really going wrong somewhere.

Whatever the ins and outs of specific issues, matters seem to be coming to a boiling point. For the sake of everyone, those who have power in the game need to get a grip and get it sorted out.

The last thing the sport needs is a damaging civil war just ahead of the biggest structural shake-up in a generation.

We currently have a governing body which looks out of touch and at a loss as to how to control things. The ridiculous debacle over obstruction seems to be a symptom of a wider malaiase, and a worrying loss of direction.

One does wonder who thought it would be a good idea to bring in a new interpretation of obstruction halfway through the season.

A summit between clubs, stakeholders and the RFL might well be a good idea. There are some things which need thrashing out. The decision makers need to make better decisions, and to explain them more clearly, in public, so the people who pay everyone’s wages in the long run, the fans, can have a clearer picture.

Too much looks last minute as things stand. It seems like fighting fires is more important than putting structures in place to prevent fires occurring.

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